Uncovering Clues to a Lost Civilization ; Ancient Cemetery Found in Israel Could Shed Light on Culture of Philistines

By Fleur, Nicholas St | International New York Times, July 11, 2016 | Go to article overview

Uncovering Clues to a Lost Civilization ; Ancient Cemetery Found in Israel Could Shed Light on Culture of Philistines


Fleur, Nicholas St, International New York Times


Archaeologists in Israel, said they had found a burial site that could help reveal the origin and lifestyle of a civilization whose history has been written by its enemies.

After more than 30 years of excavating the remains of a Philistine city, a team of archaeologists says it believes it has found a cemetery belonging to the ancient people on the outskirts of Ashkelon in Israel.

The team has unearthed skeletons and artifacts that it suspects had rested for more than 3,000 years in the cemetery, potentially offering clues to the Philistines' lifestyle and perhaps providing some answers to the mysteries of where the Philistines came from. Much has remained unknown about their origins.

"When we found this cemetery right next to a Philistine city, we knew we had it," said Daniel Master, an archaeologist from Wheaton College in Illinois. "We have the first Philistine cemetery that's ever been discovered."

Dr. Master is a co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, which has excavated the site since 1985. Ashkelon, which archaeologists think the Philistines entered around 1150 B.C., is one of the five Philistine capitals, along with Ashdod, Ekron, Gath and Gaza.

The cities and their people are mentioned in the ancient texts of the Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians. In the Hebrew Bible, they were the nemeses of the Israelites and sent Goliath to fight David. Many tales tell of the great battles the Philistines fought and lost until their utter destruction at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army in 604 B.C.

"The victors write history," Dr. Master said. "We found these Philistines, and finally we get to hear their story told by them rather than by their enemies."

By using radiocarbon dating and analyzing the pottery found in the graves, the researchers dated the cemetery to between the 10th century B.C. and the ninth century B.C. The period, they said, supports the prevailing theory that the Philistines landed in ancient Israel after crossing the Aegean Sea around the 12th century B.C.

But the team still has to perform DNA, radiocarbon and genetic testing on the bone samples to prove that the remains belong to the western migrants.

During the excavation, the team uncovered more than 200 men, women and children in the cemetery. Absent were newborns, which led the researchers to think the Philistines might have buried babies who died at birth either in their homes or elsewhere.

For Sherry C. Fox, a bioarchaeologist at Arizona State University and member of the team, what set this cemetery apart from other ancient graveyards was the assortment of burial practices found. …

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